Asian Dub Foundation

Article excerpt

Trad Guitar Heretics

"Jimi Hendrix was incredible, but I don't consider him a guitar player," challenges Asian Dub Foundation guitarist Chandrasonic. "He was an expressionist. He wasn't about technique. He was about fashioning sound to convey volcanoes of emotion and atmosphere, and I think he is the most misinterpreted guitar player on earth. Anyone who thinks doing a cover of `Voodoo Chile' is a tribute to Hendrix is wrong. It's a great insult. When Jimi came out in 1967, he sounded like he was in 2067. You can only hold him in reverence by making music that looks ahead 20 to 30 years."

Here in 1999, England's Asian Dub Foundation creates hyperactive freak-outs of musical energy with beat-heavy mixes of hip-hop, classical Indian music, and rock. But the five-member collective--who recently debuted with Rafi's Revenge [London]--wishes to do more than make people dance. They want to make music that stays fresh for a good chunk of the next century. To do that, Chandrasonic contends that the guitar must be dragged out of its past.

"Dance producers who do jungle, house, or techno have laughed at the guitar for years," he says. "And rightly so. Most people who play guitar are incredibly boring and conservative. The guitar is an instrument strangled by its own history. The last band to do anything good with guitars was Sonic Youth because of their tunings and reinterpretations of the guitar's sound. The only way to make guitar relevant is to make it work with the most innovative forms of late '90s music--things like raga, jungle, and hip-hop."

One way that Chandrasonic avoids "guitar-hero traps" is by representing ADF's lyrics with evocative guitar timbres. "For example, our song `Naxalite' is about a guerilla uprising, so the guitar sound has to reflect conflict," he says. "And the guitar solo in the middle of `Buzzin' is like an insect--it scampers at high speed. When I was a music-technology teacher, the main point I conveyed to students was, `Don't worry about notes or chords. Get a picture in your head, and let it come out in your instrument. Don't play a B[flat]7, instead play a volcano, fly, or a car chase.'"

Although Chandrasonic disdains classic-rock solos, on Rafi's Revenge he slips into some very Hendrix-like moments. "Sometimes it feels good to rip on the guitar," he admits. "But sometimes it's good not to play at all. On some tracks, I don't even play notes. I might just play a staccato figure and damp all the strings to make the guitar sound like a percussion instrument."

Rhythm is key to ADF's music, and Chandrasonic decries the sorry state of groove practiced by many of today's guitarists. …